The Blind Assassin is two stories in one: the primary plot is essentially the memoir of the main character, Iris Chase. She's an old woman now, in her 80s, and she looks back on her life growing up in a small town outside of Toronto. She and her sister, Laura, are the daughters of the wealthiest man in town. They live a somewhat privileged life in the 1910s and 20s, but once the Great Depression hits, the family is in dire financial straits. Iris is married off to Richard Chase.
Iris's diaries detail the miserable trap her life has become. She is trapped into a loveless marriage. Richard's family is controlling and awful--eventually taking Iris's daughter from her, and later her granddaughter.
Iris is an interesting but weak character. She's made many mistakes, and as a young woman she has no agency. It's painful to see how constrained and small her choices are. She protects herself by remaining emotionally distant from everyone. She even closes herself off from her own sister, allowing her to drift away. Only after Laura's suicide (alluded to in the first line) does Iris fight back against Richard and his family, although no one in this story really ends up a winner, at least the ending shows Iris taking at least a small measure of control over her future.
Interspersed with Iris's story are the chapters of a novel called The Blind Assassin. It is the story of two lovers hiding their affair from the woman's husband. It is gradually revealed that this was a story that Laura wrote before she died.
On the plus side, like all novels by Margaret Atwood, it's beautifully written. I earmarked a few pages that beautifully described life, loss, mourning, love, etc. Some parts were just flat out funny. This observation, for example, strikes me as beyond hilarious. Iris is on her honeymoon in Paris and the waiter can sense her sadness. He tells her, "You should not be sad...it must be the love. But you are young and pretty, you will have time to be sad later." Iris then observes, "The French are connoisseurs of sadness. This is why they have bidets" (304). Seriously, I have no idea about what the connection is between bidets and sadness, but it struck me as funny. Sometimes people just put it all together in their own way, right?
This is one of those books that was good, but not great. I enjoyed
reading it when I was actually in it, but it took me a few weeks to
finish it. It just wasn't compelling in the sense that I *had* to pick
it up and read it. Regretfully, I also have a sinking feeling that I won't remember that
much of it. It was solid without being compelling. I feel like I really must have missed something, because I'm not sure what makes this an award winner.
Also, on a completely annoying level, this book had a poorly designed book jacket. It ripped in several places when I was reading it. It seemed to have a consistency similar to a brown paper bag. I don't feel like I'm particularly rough on books, but I beat the hell out of this one.
Anyways...on to what's next...